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Drafting of the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights

A guide to the records behind the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Bill of Rights


  • Introduced in 1789 in 1st Congress as amendments
  • (Proposed 12 published in Statutes at Large: 1 Stat. 97)
  • Went through ratification by states
  • 10 became law in 1791
  • More information is available from the Library of Congress

Comprehensive Sources

  • A Bill of Rights: A Documentary History: KF 4744 1971
  • The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins: KF 4744 1997
  • Creating the Bill of Rights: The Documentary Record from the First Federal Congress: KF 4749 C74 1991

Specialized Sources

  • 1st Amendment: First Amendment Encyclopedia contains articles, news, and insights. Online encyclopedia that is culled and updated from the print Encyclopedia of The First Amendment.
  • 14th Amendment: Gregory Maggs, A Critical Guide to Using the Legislative History of the Fourteenth Amendment to Determine the Amendment's Original Meaning, 49 Conn. L. Rev. 1069 (2017).
  • 25th Amendment Archive: Ratified on Feb. 10, 1967, the 25th Amendment deals with presidential succession. The archive includes related books and articles, executive branch and congressional materials, correspondence, reports, along with photos & videos. From Fordham Law.

Related Materials from First Congress

Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791: JK 1059 1st D6

  • Most complete resource available
  • Homepage of First Federal Congress Project, still in progress

American State Papers

  • Standard resource, but incomplete
  • Covers 1789-1838, thus includes 1st Congress
  • However, only selected papers were included
  • Online: Library of Congress and HeinOnline

Annals of Congress

  • Precursor to today's Congressional Record
  • Standard text for debates but this portion of the Annals is a reprint of the Congressional Register by Thomas Lloyd, who was an incompetent reporter
  • No published debates for Senate until 1794 because of closed sessions
  • For availability, see related page from Federal Legislative History Guide

Journal of William Maclay:

  • Senator who kept diary; good source since Senate held closed sessions
  • Print: J 15 M2 1927 and Online
  • Also included in Documentary History of the First Federal Congress

House and Senate Journals: minutes of floor action

Circular Letters of Congressmen to Their Constituents, 1789-1829: PCL: E 310 C55

Biographical Directory of the US Congress: profiles of Representatives and Senators; can search by year or Congress.

Inside the National Archives Vaults